After bobbing and weaving around the coronavirus pandemic for much of the fall, the N.F.L. nears the end of the third quarter of its regular season facing crises on teams from coast to coast.
On Saturday, health officials in Santa Clara County threw the San Francisco 49ers’ season into turmoil when they temporarily banned all contact sports at the high school, college and professional levels and required anyone traveling into the region from more than 150 miles away to quarantine starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The order would be in effect until at least Dec. 21 and would apply to the Stanford and San Jose State college football teams, and to the San Jose Sharks of the N.H.L., among others.
In Baltimore, six more members of the Ravens have tested positive for the virus as the outbreak in the team’s locker room expanded to 18 players, including the team’s star quarterback, Lamar Jackson.
And in Denver, the Broncos appear to have run out of quarterbacks since Blake Bortles, Drew Lock and Brett Rypien were forced to quarantine after coming in contact with a fourth quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who tested positive for the virus on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced the details. All four players are ineligible to play Sunday when the Broncos face the New Orleans Saints, and at this point Denver’s options for filling the position are extremely limited, because the league’s virus-related rules preclude bringing in a player who has not quarantined ahead of joining a team.
For much of the season, the N.F.L. had only one full-fledged outbreak, when two dozen players and other personnel tested positive on the Tennessee Titans. The league got through that crisis by postponing a handful of games and moving a few others around. But teams have mostly exhausted their bye weeks, complicating efforts to juggle game dates this late in the season.
The outbreak on the Ravens prompted the league to move their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers from Thursday to Sunday and then to Tuesday next week. The game is still scheduled for Tuesday despite the increase in positive cases.
If any games, including the Ravens-Steelers matchup, are unable to fit into the league’s existing calendar, the N.F.L. may have to add an 18th week to the regular season and delay the start of the playoffs.
The league’s doctors said they expect the number of positive cases to rise in line with surging infections across the country. On Friday, the N.F.L. told every team to cancel in-person practices on Monday and Tuesday because some players and personnel had celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.
The 49ers face more pressing problems. The decision by local health officials could force the team to move at least two home games next month, and to leave their training site in Santa Clara.
“We are at risk of exceeding our hospital capacity very soon if current trends continue,” said Dr. Sara Cody, the health officer for Santa Clara County, who added that the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in the county had doubled in the past few weeks.
The 49ers, who are to play the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday, should be able to return to Santa Clara County before the quarantine goes into effect. But it is not clear where and when they will go next.
“We are aware of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department’s emergency directive,” Bob Lange, the 49ers team spokesman, said in a statement. “We are working with the N.F.L. and our partners on operational plans and will share details as they are confirmed.”